Researchers of the University of Bayreuth have taken a leading role in developing a White Paper on sustainable plastics, which four chemical associations from Germany, the UK, China, and Japan published today under the title "Science to enable sustainable plastics". The White Paper contains numerous recommendations for future research into the environmental impact of plastics, the development of new plastics, as well as recyclability and natural degradation. It urges for the interdisciplinary interlinking of natural, technical, and social science research and development work, so that global challenges in the area of sustainable plastics can be solved together.
Publishers are the German Chemical Society (GDCh), the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the Chinese Chemical Society (CCS), and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). (symbol picture)
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The publication of the White Paper was preceded by an international meeting of the four associations in December 2019 in London. Representing the University of Bayreuth were Prof. Dr. Andreas Greiner (Macromolecular Chemistry) and Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch (Animal Ecology). The two scientists are spokespersons for the "Microplastics” Collaborative Research Centre at the University of Bayreuth. Scientists from the fields of ecology and environmental sciences, polymer and colloid research, and molecular biosciences have been collaborating intensively in this network, which has been funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) since 2018 Together they aim to gain a fundamental understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes involved in the formation of microplastics, their distribution in the environment, and their consequences for plants, animals, and humans.
"In our Collaborative Research Centre on the Bayreuth campus, we have already established the close interdisciplinary networking so strongly urged in today's white paper. In fact, this has yet to be realized on a global level. This joint publication by the world's four most important chemical associations is also an expression of the realization that viable solutions in the field of sustainable plastics can only be developed in dialogue with the public. We aim to be a pioneer in this respect with our Collaborative Research Centre as well, - as we were during the 'Science Rally' in February 2020, which we organized together with the African artist Mbongeni Buthelezi,” says Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch. His research on the spread of microplastics in rivers and lakes, but also in organic waste, and on arable land, has attracted considerable international attention in recent years.
The White Paper deals in detail with the development of environmentally friendly, recyclable, and degradable plastics, which could and should be part of a global bio-economy in the 21st century. This is a focus of Prof. Dr. Andreas Greiner, who together with his Bayreuth research team deal with the properties, structures, and behaviour of biodegradable and bio-based polymers. "These polymers are promising building blocks for innovative and sustainable plastics that meet both high technological and ecological requirements. On our campus we have excellent infrastructure for researching such plastics, not least because of our DFG Collaborative Research Center 'From Particulate Nanosystems to Mesotechnology'. The White Paper makes it clear how important it is to include economic and social aspects in the development of sustainable materials right from the outset, things like production costs or the simultaneous importance of renewable raw materials for food production. In Bayreuth, we never lose sight of these questions, and will continue to redefine them", says Greiner.
The White Paper is divided into four major sections, highlighting key challenges for research from a scientific, technological, economic, and social perspective: understanding the environmental impact of plastics, taking into account the entire "life cycle" of plastics; developing sustainable plastics; recycling plastics as part of a closed loop economy; and understanding and controlling the degradation of plastics.